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Moog has been at the cutting edge of music technology since Robert Moog began selling theremin kits in 1961. In 1968 Moog built a synthesizer system for Walter (now Wendy) Carlos for the groundbreaking album Switched-On Bach. Moog synths became ubiquitous in the ‘70s with the advent of Prog Rock and Fusion. Bob Moog also worked with Gibson to develop the RD Artist series guitars, which were the first guitars with onboard compressor/expander electronics. In the ‘80s, with the popularity of digital synths, Moog’s analog machines dropped in sales and the company went out of business in 1986. Bob Moog went on to start Big Briar and went back to making theremins and researching new ways to make wacky sounds. In 2001 Big Briar was able to reacquire the Moog name and has since become Moog Music. They have produced some amazing effects boxes, and with analog sounds getting popular again, they’ve brought back the Mini Moog synth. After all these years they have turned their creative energies to the guitar, thanks to Moog inventor Paul Vo. Moog Music first produced the Paul Vo Collector Edition, which had fancy wood and $6500 price tag. The new E1 has the same guts and is basically a less fancy version for 3k less.
The Naked Facts
The E1 has an Alder body with a 25.5"-scale maple neck and ebony fingerboard. The guitar is USA-made and looks clean with excellent fretwork. It is available in three colors: Candy Red, Black, and Butterscotch. Our sample has the Wilkinson by Gotoh vibrato bar, which is much better than your average non-locking whammy. There is also a piezo pickup system to give simulated acoustic sound that can be mixed in with the electric sound as desired. The two pickups are made by Moog and are an essential part of the system, so don’t plan on replacing them. To me, the pickups sound all right but not exceptionally good. They are not super hot, and the overall guitar sound is very clean, albeit somewhat sterile. The natural sustain is very good. For more on features be sure to read Michael Ross’ article, “Hands On With The Moog Guitar” in the Oct. 2008 issue of PG.
You Want Sustain? No Problemo
Now let’s get down to it. The reason you’d spend over 3K for this axe isn’t because of the guitar; it’s because of what it does. When I was asked to review the E1, I was expecting some sort of new guitar synth. Well that’s not what this is—in fact, Moog has only just made MIDI compatibility an option, and our review sample doesn’t have it. Even so, I was surprised by what I found. The sounds the E1 makes basically all come from the strings, and they’re very organic. Moog and Vo have made a system that will stimulate the strings to sustain endlessly. Conversely, this same technology allows for the system to mute the strings. There is also the Controlled Sustain mode, which mutes the strings you’re not playing and gives energy to the strings you are, which is a neat feature for soloing. In addition, they include the Moog Ladder Filter, which is a sort of tone shift—think new fangled wah-wah.
The guitar, let’s face it, tends to be a staccato instrument, so for a long time players have searched for ways to get more sustain. This path led from nylon to steel strings to electric guitars and experiments with feedback, fuzz boxes, compressors and a host of other stuff. With the Moog you can just skip all that, sustain is here to spare. There are three positions on the Mode Selector: Mute, Controlled Sustain and Infinite Sustain. You won’t hear a huge difference in sound between the two sustain modes—the Controlled Sustain mode blends the Infinite Sustain and the Mute modes by giving energy only to the strings being played while muting those that aren’t— but the way they respond differently to your playing is pretty cool. This makes it easy for players who want sustain for soloing, but don’t want to worry about muting the other strings with their right hand.
How the sustain actually feels as you play is a bit curious. There is a slight delay in the time from when you pluck the string to when you feel the sustain grab on to the sound. The result, to me, is that the E1 is best at a legato approach—long, sustained chords work great. For single-note lines you really aren’t going to play fast shred stuff, as it just misses the point of the sustainer. Playing up and down on a single string works really well, since the string stays stimulated and you avoid the restart delay feel. The infinite sustain really does require you to rethink the way you play guitar, as does the mute function. The mute can give you a sort of banjo-like attack, basically all attack and no sustain.